Living with Autism is living on spectrum. It is a condition that affects people in different ways. This April for Autism Awareness Month some WAVE volunteers and apprentices will be sharing their perspectives on common beliefs, myths, and misunderstanding related to Autism Spectrum Disorder.
It is a commonly held belief that people with autism don’t like to be touched. In fact physical contact with someone with autism can incite a wide variety of reactions depending on the individual. Some people on the spectrum are hypersensitive to touch, especially if it’s unexpected or too invasive. A hypersensitive person might even reject certain types of clothing due to how it feels on their skin. Too much stimulation can lead to someone with hypersensitivity experiencing sensory overload. It should be noted that they often don’t have control over their condition, and will need to calm down in a safe and controllable environment.
On the other hand, there are individuals who are hyposensitive to touch, which means they’re underwhelmed by physical sensations, and need more sensory stimulation than is typical. Hyposensitive individuals sometimes actively seek out tactile stimulation, wearing tight clothing, seeking out physical pressure, and crawling under heavy objects. In some extreme cases people with hyposensitivity to touch engage in behaviour that can cause themselves harm (such as biting their hand or banging their head against a wall) to feel sensation.
Finally there are those with ASD for whom physical sensation is no more or less stimulating than it is for neurotypicals. Figuring out the right amount of physical sensation that someone is comfortable with, and how to manage their sensitivity to it is an important step for comforting those living with autism.